The COMP Performance Group™ Research and Development facility houses thousands of square feet of cutting edge equipment. Multiple dynos, Spintrons, flow benches and other machines are put to use every day as the engineering staff works to develop new products. Some of the industry’s greatest achievements have come out of the R&D Department. But not every project that has taken place in the facility has turned out well.
Of all the stories that the engineers like to tell, one stands out in particular. In the late 1990s ZEX™ engineers ran a series of tests looking into possible nitrous alternatives. One of the options they tried was a 50/50 combination of methanol and nitro-methane.
At the time, the engine on the dyno was a very mildly upgraded 5.0L Ford making about 325 horsepower. The engineers adapted and installed a nitrous plate in order to spray the methanol/nitro-methane mixture. On the first pull the horsepower bumped up to 340, but the engine was running way too rich. After a few more attempts, the engineers decided to make a pull spraying straight nitro-methane to see how lean the engine would run. This boosted the horsepower a little more, but at 4,500 RPM, the engine began to shake and rumble so much they worried it would break apart. After the pull they noticed excess liquid nitro dripping out of the header pipes as well.
The engineers spent an afternoon varying the timing, upgrading the ignition, increasing spray pressure on the nitro-methane and anything else they could think of to tweak the setup. Eventually they were able to get a 40 horsepower boost and keep the engine running smoothly until 5,000 RPM, when it would start to shake and buck again. Throughout the process there were two constants. First, if the engineers backed off too fast the engine would backfire. And second, no matter how much they sprayed, not all of the nitro was being burned up.
They decided to go for broke. With the ignition as hot as they could get it, the engineers made one last pull. The operator backed off the throttle too fast and the engine backfired. But this time it ignited all of the pooled nitro-methane from earlier runs. A huge explosion blew up the 8-foot tall dyno mufflers and sent the connecting pipes flying off the engine. The blast was so loud that a crowd of worried employees came from all over the building to find out if a bomb had gone off.
After the crowd was dispersed, the engineers put new mufflers on the dyno and found that, incredibly, the engine still ran fine. But when they realized that their explosive pull had only netted an increase of 50 horsepower the project was scrapped.
Since that time, CPG engineers have worked on thousands of other projects. From tiny weed whacker motors to Top Fuel drag racing engines, everything that comes though the facility is tested with state-of-the-art equipment. Today, that means multiple dynos, Spintrons, flow benches and other specialized tools. But in past years, state-of-the-art was something entirely different.
Before the Spintron was invented, the engineers at COMP and RHS had to improvise. So they built an engine powered, reverse-coupled transmission rig, with a test engine attached. This crude, early version of a Spintron let the engineers test cylinder heads and valve train combinations before installing them in an actual vehicle. Innovative but scary, the system would throw parts out so often that the engineers joked that they needed a bomb squad suit to run a test. The contraption was ahead of its time and allowed the engineers to test and refine products in ways that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. But nobody missed the thing when it was retired and replaced with a Spintron.
There is a story behind every game changing product that comes out of the COMP Performance Group™ Research & Development Facility. Fortunately for the guys doing the work, not every one involves an explosion. But even they will admit, the ones that do make the best stories to tell. This is just the first of many. Look for more stories from Engineer X coming soon.